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Troubling trend in prescription suicide

PORTLAND, Oregon (CNS): The number of terminally ill Oregonians who use the state law allowing physician-assisted suicide continues to increase.

Meanwhile, physicians are referring fewer of the patients for psychological evaluation and are spending less time at the deathbed.

The Oregon Catholic Conference calls the trends troubling.

A report released earlier this year the Oregon Office of Disease Prevention and Epidemiology said that in 2003, 42 patients died using lethal prescriptions written by physicians. That compares with 38 who died in 2002, the previous high mark.

Since the law went into effect in late 1997, 171 people have used it.

State epidemiologist, Dr Mel Kohn, said “the number remains small in comparison to” an average of 31,000 Oregon deaths annually. Assisted suicide accounts for about one-seventh of 1 percent of deaths in the state.

Opponents of the law said the parts of the report they found most controversial have to do with the way physicians are handling patients who request lethal prescriptions.

Dr Gregory Hamilton, a Portland psychiatrist and member of St. Pius X Parish, called it a tragedy that so few of these patients are referred for psychological help.

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